Lifetime Stillwater resident Dick Olsen’s death leaves a noticeable absence

From left, Ron Anderson, Bob Zaczkowski and Peter Miller sit in the "Good Old Boys Booth" at Joseph's Family Restaurant March 3. They were longtime friends with Dick Olsen, who died March 1. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)
From left, Ron Anderson, Bob Zaczkowski and Peter Miller sit in the “Good Old Boys Booth” at Joseph’s Family Restaurant March 3. They were longtime friends with Dick Olsen, who died March 1. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)

There was an empty space in a corner booth at Joseph’s Family Restaurant Monday, March 3.

Until last week it was filled each weekday by Richard “Dick” Olsen, a lifetime Stillwater resident whose name is one of eight on a plaque dubbing the table “The Good Old Boys Booth,” in honor of daily lunch meetings since 1975.

Olsen’s last meeting was Feb. 25. He died Saturday, March 1, at age 78.

His friends missed him at the table on Monday.

Dick Olsen
Dick Olsen

“He was a good person, just a good, good person,” said Peter Miller, who knew Olsen more than 60 years.

Olsen’s friends and family remember him as an avid Stillwater sports fan, a well-known and loved community servant, and a man dedicated to faith and family.

As the son of a Simonet and as the third-generation president of George W. Olsen Construction, Olsen’s roots in the community went deep, and so did his involvement in Stillwater high school sports.

“My dad was born and raised in Stillwater,” Olsen’s daughter Ann Marie Thurmes said. “He was actually on the basketball, track, football and baseball teams for Stillwater High School from 1951-1954 and was an all-conference athlete in track, basketball and football. … He was also homecoming king.”

He continued playing basketball even after high school, and Miller remembers playing Olsen’s team in a pregame to the Minneapolis Lakers.

Miller also said he and Olsen attended nearly every Stillwater Ponies football game for the past 40 years.

“All of his friends know that Friday nights, come fall, are not available for Dick Olsen because he was going to the Stillwater Ponies’ football game,” Thurmes said.

“He wore Pony red every Friday,” said Bob Zaczkowski, another longtime friend and regular at the Good Old Boys Booth.

Olsen’s love for the Ponies came out in the form of a book, called “Pony Tales,” a collection of stories he co-edited with Bob McGarry and Lori Martin.

But it was more than a love of sports that motivated him to write the book.

“That book really came out of (the fact that) he loved to be a storyteller,” Thurmes said. “We would always hear stories about when he was growing up.”

Olsen had a part in many local stories throughout his life.

In 1958 the 22-year-old Olsen took over the family construction company when his father died at age 63. Olsen helped build or renovate many buildings in the area, including the St. Croix Valley Rec Center, FamilyMeans, Bradshaw Funeral Home and the Stillwater Library.

He was also involved in countless community organizations. He served on the board of directors for Lakeview Memorial Hospital, First National Bank of Stillwater, the Stillwater Board of Water Commissioners, the Dunrovin retreat center, Croixdale, Boutwells Landing, United Way, and the St. Croix Valley Rec Center.

He was finance chair for the Stillwater Veteran’s Memorial Award and was a founder and key organizer in the creation of the Graffiti Teen Center and Stillwater Area High School graduation all-night party.

The Lions, Knights of Columbus, Jaycees and Catholic Order of Foresters all claimed him as a member.

And the list of his awards and community involvement stretches on.

“You wouldn’t find anyone in the community who did more for the community,” Miller said.

“He had his hand in everything,” said Joe Kohler, owner of Joseph’s Family Restaurant. “He took care of everybody. I don’t think there’s anybody I can think of that didn’t love Dick.”

Olsen’s other friends at Joseph’s agreed.

“The thing I think of Dick the most was that he never got in a fight with anyone,” Zaczkowski said.

Even when the Good Old Boys sat and debated sports and issues of the day, Olsen was a peacemaker.

“He never told you who he voted for,” Miller said. “He kept that pretty quiet.”

Those who knew him also agreed that Olsen made his faith and family priorities. He was dedicated to St. Mary’s Church and spent time with his family.

“He loved his family deeply,” Thurmes said. “He (and my mom) celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last April.”

Thurmes remembered fondly how each day her father would ask her mother — who is an intense walker, even at age 70 — how far she walked that day.

“Someone needs to take the place of my dad and ask her how many miles she’s walked today,” Thurmes said.

She also remembered that no matter how busy her dad was, he always made time for the sporting events of his children and grandchildren.

And each Sunday his family became another good excuse to go to his favorite restaurant. He’d show up at Joseph’s each week with his entire family, even the grandchildren.

“You better have a good excuse not to come to Joseph’s … with the family on Sunday,” Miller said.

Olsen had his “last supper” at Joseph’s, Thurmes said.

“Wednesday was his last day,” Zaczkowski said. “I brought him here, and from here I took him to the Stillwater clinic.”

Olsen is survived by his wife Marie (nee Wichelmann); children Jeff (Cheryl) Olsen, Ann Marie (Dan) Thurmes, and Jenny (Rob) Handberg; grandchildren Meghan, Lauren and Ryan Olsen, Tyler and Alexa Thurmes, Bryce and Mickayla Handberg; and by many very special nieces, nephews and friends.

The funeral is 11 a.m. Thursday, March 6, at Church of St. Mary, 423 Fifth St. N., Stillwater. Visitation is 4-8 p.m. Wednesday, March 5, at Simonet Funeral Home, 6429 Osgood Ave. N., Stillwater, and also one hour prior to service at church.

Per Olsen’s request, memorials are preferred to Church of St. Mary, Youth Advantage, Christian Brothers Retreat Center, or to donor’s choice.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]